Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Top 3 Ways to Kill Your Art Career

Monkey here:

So recently I've been dealing with a lot of artists recently in my various roles, and I've also been dealing with a lot of frustrations.  Most of those frustrations stems from a lack of professionalism.

The reason why stress professionalism in general so much, is that I want you to succeed.  I know how hard it can be to make a living off of art, especially when you're first starting out, and because I know how hard it can be just to create, I don't want stupid little things to get in your way.  The truth, like it or not, about the art world is that you have to do a lot of selling to find commercial success.  I'm not saying you have to make hard sales where you're schmoozing everyone you know - that's actually just annoying and kinda gross, but you do have to be able to talk up your work and make your work presentable, and the way to do that is to make yourself appear professional.

Now I'm not talking about going to gallery shows wearing suits and ties (although it might help), or that you have to carry briefcases around or anything like that.  What I am talking about is making sure that you foster your relationships with gallery curators, collectors, event coordinators, and other people who are doing their best behind the scenes to make your art look awesome so buyers can find it and give you money.

So here are the top three ways (with explanations) on how to ruin a career and look unprofessional:

1.  Be Late.
Deadline are set for a reason.  Most often than not, they are not just arbitrary times and dates made for drop-offs - curators have lives as well.  The reason I post a lot on facebook between 2am and 4am is not because I enjoy sleeping really early in the morning - it's because I'm up because I have work to do.  I don't enjoy not being able to hang out with Seal, nor do I like having to work 10-14 hour days 6-7 days a week.  But I do it because that what it takes to get things done and turned in on time.

When artists turn in pieces late, it prevents me from hanging the show.  Putting up a show (especially a group show) is more than just hanging paintings.  Sure, the physical process of hanging a show is pretty easy - measure spacing, nail/screw into a wall, hang painting, level it, done.  However, a good amount of time is spent trying how paintings interact with one another.  What is the story they're telling?  Do the colors flow?  What about size, theme, overall narrative, subject matter, style?  I can't hang a show unless all the pieces are in, and when artists are late (or worse, consistently late), I take note.  I know who I want to work with in the future.  I can also list the names of artists who I don't want to work with because of their unprofessionalism.  On a side note, there is also a list of people who I don't want to work with due to my No-Asshole rule, but that's a different blog post.

I also know other gallery owners who also have to deal with late artists.  I've stopped in to drop work off at other galleries and I've seen them stressed out about other artists.  Just as I take note of other artists who they're excited to work with to curate into Big Umbrella, I also take not of artists who they're not happy to work with.  So: be on time!

2.  Don't Follow Directions.
Whether from a curator or a boss or someone else, I'm sure you've probably gotten an email with five different deadlines, multiple directions, and all sorts of other information that makes your head spin.  While I know it's probably a lot of information, the reason people send lots of info is to try and make the project work well for everyone.

The reason that there are very specific reasons for the way I ask for submissions for outside artists for Big Umbrella Studios is because I have a crazy email inbox and I've created filters to try and keep it under control.  When you send things to other email addresses, or drop things off at the gallery, I might lose it in the craziness.  Most galleries gets hundreds (if not thousands) of submissions a year.  Well known art directors might get a hundred or more submissions a day.  If you don't want your stuff to get lost, follow directions!  If a gallery or a foundation asks for slides, one might complain about the cost/time in getting slides made.  However, the reason they're asking for slides is that that is the process in which they review submissions.  Sure, it might be old-skool, sure maybe they should get with the times, but if you want to get into their show, follow the directions, otherwise they're probably not even going to review your stuff.

Also, this has never happened to me, but I assume that if a gallery owner asks you for a painting for a clown show, you need to paint a clown.  You can get away with painting something clown-related, maybe a whoopie cushion, or maybe the green hand from the original "It" cover illustration, or maybe a portrait of someone who you think is a clown painted with a red nose, but please don't paint something completely off topic like a dragon.  If you want to paint fantasy, maybe paint a dragon eating a 17th century clown, but not just a dragon.  While I completely understand and respect your creative need (sometimes you just have to paint a dragon, or a dildo, or whatever), by agreeing to take part in a themed show, you're really agreeing to follow the general guidelines of the show.  

Think about it this way, if you worked for a whole month (or more) trying to plan a birthday party for the person  you love the most, and everyone agreed to dress up in fancy clothes, and someone shows up drunk, smelling like urine, and not wearing any pants, you'd be pretty upset.  Don't be the person not wearing any pants.  Sorry if that just got weird.  Anyway...

3.  Don't apologize or take responsibility for when you mess up.
No one is perfect.  There are times that I've been late or have been so muddled that I've forgotten how someone needs something and have had to ask for directions.  We are not all robots.  However, life happens.  Curators are people as well, and except for a few who are just assholes, we are swayed by apologies.  We are much more likely to continue our working relationship with an artist if they screw up and apologize profusely for it.  If we didn't remember to tell you the theme of the show, it's our fault, not yours.  If an artist is a day late with work and we're waiting around and they don't call or email us or text us or schedule something in advance, it's really disrespectful of our time, and we're not going to want to work with that person again.

While this is in no way of excusing being late or not following directions, if you do mess up here and there, make sure you take responsibility for it.  I highly encourage people to make things happen, regardless of how tough that might be.  Especially when you're working with someone for the first time, I'll pay a $30 cab fare to make sure that I'm there on time and with everything I promised I would have.  I'll sleep 45 minutes the night before a physically exhausting 8 hour printing job if that's what it takes to meet the deadlines, so really, if at all possible, make your commitments, but if you do mess up, make sure that the other party knows that you know that it was a mistake and that it won't happen again.

So that's it.  It seems simple, but you'd be surprised at how many artists turn paintings in late, or turn stuff in unframed when I've asked them for all their work to be ready to hang. Handle your business professionally, and clients/galleries/me will love you and ask you back again and again.